Designing plantings to boost pollination in kiwifruit

New native plantings have been established in the Bay of Plenty to support kiwifruit pollination and encourage bio-diversity.

The plantings of 600 trees and shrubs on previously low-productivity land include a carefully selected mix of plants that support insects known to pollinate kiwifruit, while reducing the risks of harbouring pest species, mainly passion vine hopper.

Based on Plant & Food Research science, the project is funded by Operation Pollinator®, a Syngenta global initiative to boost the number of pollinating insects on commercial farms. It is expected that the effect of the new plants will increase as the plants establish, grow, and start to produce flowers.

The research team hopes to monitor changes in insect populations and kiwifruit yields during this period.

While restoring natives to production landscapes has become an increasingly common practice in New Zealand, this is the first project of its kind to take a prescriptive approach to enhancing pollination and avoiding creating a reservoir for pests in kiwifruit.

“If you want to stabilise a streambank, or return nitrogen to the soil, we know certain native plants can do that”, says project leader Dr Brad Howlett from Plant & Food Research. “We want to take the same approach for enhancing crop pollination by managing the landscape.”

Dr Howlett’s team worked for several years to get a clear picture of which insects, including native bees, flies, and beetles are the most important for kiwifruit pollination. To be good pollinators, the insects must visit kiwifruit flowers and  transfer sufficient amounts of pollen between male and female flowers.

Once researchers identified the most important pollinators, they surveyed native plants to learn which of these were important for the best pollinators.

“The plantings that were established this year include plant species which we know kiwifruit pollinators use during their life cycle and, importantly, these plants flower at different times to kiwifruit. This will support large populations of pollinating insects ready to move onto the crop during flowering,” says Dr Howlett.

The kiwifruit industry is entirely dependent on pollination, and relies heavily on managed honey bees and manual pollination to ensure that flowers set fruit. Human pollination (either by hand or vehicle-based) can be expensive, and access to honey bee hives can be limited because of overlap with Mānuka honey collection and concerns about the effects of crop-protecting nets on colony health.

Increased support for native insects should help to reduce concerns about pollination in this high-value crop.

Source:  Plant & Food Research

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